While young children are sometimes incapable of understanding the reasoning behind parental limits or expectations, teens are capable of higher-order thinking. Perhaps more significant than their mental capacity to understand and assess risks and participate in the decision-making process is the fact that they need to be taught how to make wise choices, since they will soon be legally and practically able to make major decisions for themselves. As you parent your teen through this important transition, it’s absolutely essential that you see your role as shifting from protector and caregiver to trainer and mentor.
Tapering Off Your Caregiver Role
Some parents can hardly wait to leave this stage of parenting behind them, while others have a difficult time letting go of it. Some parents may even feel guilty when they begin to taper off the intensive caregiving with which they provided their children when they were unable to care for themselves. Sometimes teens can intensify such emotions by saying things like, “You don’t love me anymore.”
Sometimes teens can intentionally be trying to emotionally manipulate their parents, but other times, they may truly feel as if their parents are communicating less love by no longer performing certain acts of service. (This may be tied to your child’s love language — you can have them take a “love language” quiz here.) Be assured that even if your teen’s love language is “acts of service,” you can find new ways to communicate love to him or her.
Understanding the Reason for the Shift
Especially if you’ve enjoyed fulfilling the role of caregiver and having children in the dependent stage, you may be hesitant to make the shift. Perhaps your own love language is “acts of service,” so you communicate love by performing tasks for those you love. Regardless of your emotions, your teen has real needs that you, as his or her parent, have to help fulfill. While you once responded to your child’s needs by caring for them, and that responsive care helped create a confident, secure child, you will now have to respond differently in order to nurture your child into a confident, secure adult.
Easing Into the Role of Mentor
This transition is not going to occur overnight. As you continue to teach your teen what he or she needs to know in order to survive independently, there will be some areas where you’ll have to step in and model the activity for a while. You’ll want to progressively hand over more and more responsibilities to your teen, though, allowing a gradual shift from dependent child to independent adult. Your teen must understand that this transition comes with greater responsibility and risk. As small tasks are maturely and responsibly completed, both your teen and you as the parent will grow in your confidence of your teen’s ability to take on greater tasks. This time can be exciting and bonding for both of you.
Continue reading with Part 2.